Session 03 – Roleplaying for the first time

WARNING. THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WIZARDS OF THE COAST’S “LOST MINE OF PHANDELVER” INCLUDED IN THE DUNGEONS & DRAGONS 5th EDITION STARTER SET

In one of my earlier articles, I mentioned some of the challenges I was expecting as the Accidental Heroes arrived in Phandalin. The first part of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, Goblin Arrows, is quite linear and if the players do manage to get off track it’s quite easy to redirect them. However, once the party arrives in Phandalin things change. The town acts as a quest hub and that present’s some complexity for the first time Dungeon Master.

Firstly, there are more NPCs (9 to be exact) for the Dungeon Master to keep track of and more quests. That means that you need to prepare more and memorize more than you have done to date.

Secondly, I knew this session would have very little in the way of combat and would have a very heavy focus on roleplaying – something which my group have had very little experience with. This would be a defining moment for us.

My tip, when it comes to any form of revision, is to make some quick reference cards and I’ve included my notes here as an example.

As you can see, I’ve categorized each NPC by their location and I’ve kept it very simple. This allows me to have a quick glance and pull out just enough to “make an introduction.” I can then use this time to pull up any additional information I need.

Events

In Thursday’s session the party headed to the Stonehill Inn and acquired rooms for the night and it was here that they struck up their first real conversation. The party made no real attempt to talk to Toblen Stonehill and, after ordering their drinks, made straight for a table.

There is something I want to touch on this point and it comes down to the expectations and understanding of your party. My group has a very strong background in computer games and D&D is very different. NPCs in D&D are not marked on the map with an exclamation mark. When you talk to an NPC in D&D you aren’t presented with five dialogue options where one clearly indicates the quest line. So how do you proceed if your party doesn’t engage with your NPCs to the point where they are getting the information they need to have to progress?

There’s a few options here.

  • You can force-feed them the information. I tried this in the last session when Sildar gave them the main plot-hook without their asking but it felt quite unnatural.
  • You can learn to be comfortable with them not having the information. (I need to come back to this)
  • You can drop out of character at the end of a session and say “Hey guys. I think you need to start asking the NPCs more questions to drive the plot along.”

or….and this is now my preferred option.

  • You can have your NPCs recommend that they ask more questions.

In this particular case I took some advice from Critcat in a previous comment and I quickly moved Toblen’s plot points to Elsa, the gossipy barmaid referenced in the notes. What I also said, in character, was “Maybe you should ask around and see if anyone has seen Gundren”. Everything flowed seemlessly with the group’s fighter actually flirting with her relentlessly and, from that moment on, the group started being more inquisitive.

Still, this came up again not too long after when the party walked into Barthen’s Provisions to find the shop empty. Within a few moments the group’s Cleric said “Something’s wrong here. Barthen should be expecting us. How come he’s not here?” The conversation went a little out of character but your players need to understand this – People in your world have a life beyond them. Shopkeepers do not stand behind a counter all day long waiting for the party to approach them. Barthen appeared shortly after but it was an important lesson for us all.

We had a very interesting moment later on. Garaele was not home when the players approached the Shrine of Luck. The players knocked and, when that brought no response, our fighter announced “I knock hard!” I made him roll strength and, as he went for the dice I’d decided that a high roll was going to get some unwanted attention from someone in the town. When he rolled a natural 20 inspiration came to me “You smash your hand against the wooden door. It falls from it’s hinges and smashes to the floor. I let them explore the Chapel area uninterrupted but they’ll learn soon enough that actions have consequences. More on that next week.

The session ended with the party deciding to confront the Redbrand Ruffians outside the Sleeping Giant Inn. By this point the session was drawing to a close and I didn’t have the right map prepared so I dragged the argument on a little and when the confrontation became inevitable I ended the session by saying “The big Redbrand at the front charges forward, and next week we’ll start by rolling initiative”. It felt like a good way to wrap up.

All in all, a really great session and I enjoyed it a lot.

Scratchpad

  • I need to correct a minor mistake. The party have now spoken to five residents in Phandalin, including two who know our missing Gundren really well. Why have none of them mentioned Gundren’s two brothers, Thardren and Nundro? Sildar can fix that when the party return to the inn.
  • I have a map laid out for the confrontation outside the sleeping giant but it’s clearly set in the day time and our party have arrived late at night. I need to rectify this with a quick filter.

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